Tight turnaround needed for summer abortion referendum
Simon Harris to brief Cabinet and outline steps needed to meet legislation deadline
Currently the unborn has an equal right to life as to the mother and abortions are only permitted when a mother’s life is at risk. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The Cabinet is to be warned of the tight timeframe it must adhere to if it is to hold a referendum in May on removing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution.
Minister for Health Simon Harris will brief his colleagues on the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment to repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and allow for abortions up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy without restriction.
No formal decision will be taken at Tuesday’s meeting but Mr Harris will outline the steps that must be taken to clear the path for the referendum to take place in the summer.
Two dates are being examined, May 18th and June 6th, but legislation to facilitate a referendum would have to be published by January 24th or February 14th, depending on the date chosen.
The Minister will also advise of the desire to publish draft legislation at the same time as the Referendum Bill to outline clearly what law would be enacted in the event of the amendment being repealed.
Mr Harris will advise the Cabinet that there will be a series of strict timelines to be met if the Government is to realise a commitment from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to have a referendum in May.
The final report of the committee will be published on Wednesday and it will be debated in the Dáil on January 16th.
Mr Harris will update his Cabinet colleagues on the preparatory work the Department of Health and the Attorney General have done in drafting legislation.
The heads of a Bill have been prepared to provide for the outcome of the committee, if the Government accepts that course of action.
Currently the unborn has an equal right to life as to the mother and abortions are only permitted when a mother’s life is at risk.
The Oireachtas committee was established to guide the Government on whether abortion laws should be altered. Its recommendations are not binding on the Cabinet but a number of Ministers have publicly stated their belief that they should be implemented.
Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Minister of State at the Department of Health Finian McGrath have both stated they are in favour of repeal but would examine the other measures over the next number of weeks.
A number of senior figures, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, have yet to publicly state a position.
Mr Harris has said he will make his position known after the report is published but is expected to confirm his support for their proposals.
In the event that the Government accepts the committee’s proposal to allow abortions up to 12 weeks without restriction, the legislation would allow for a GP-led service to be introduced. It is understood a woman would be asked to see her doctor, a three-day wait would be required, after which an abortion pill would be provided.
Meanwhile, Independent TD Mattie McGrath has confirmed a minority report will be published on Wednesday. Mr McGrath, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen and Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick – all of whom oppose abortion – did not sign off on the Oireachtas committee report as they did not agree with its findings. They will instead produce their own findings, based on the evidence given to the committee.